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Jeremiah 1:4–10

21 August 2022

Exploring the Scripture

Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, a priest of Anathoth. Today’s text is an account of God’s call to Jeremiah to serve as a prophet. The account of calling and commission contains familiar themes common to many of the Hebrew prophets. The pattern begins with the prophet encountering God and receiving a command to speak or act for God.

Often, the one called protests or objects immediately to the vocation. God reassures and sometimes rebukes the chosen one and offers a sign that God’s presence and authority will be with the prophet. These features are present in Jeremiah’s call.

The text begins with a beautiful affirmation of God’s relationship with Jeremiah. Even before Jeremiah was born, God knew him, a Hebrew phrase referring to an intimate, cherished relationship. God tells him he is destined to be God’s prophet to the nations. Then, “the nations” referred to Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt, as well as Judah.

Jeremiah’s response is negative. He protests that he is only a boy, lacking experience in speaking. Jeremiah’s recognition of the importance of the prophetic role and his own inadequacy helps qualify him for the task. Humility and openness to God’s will, instead of one’s own, are qualities necessary for those who would speak for God.

God dismissed Jeremiah’s youthfulness as unimportant. Jeremiah’s inclusion of this detail in his testimony of the call was surely designed to answer any objection put forward by those who did not wish to hear the prophetic word. God assured Jeremiah that he would speak whatever God commanded him, and God would tell him where to go. He wouldn’t have to wonder. Jeremiah doesn’t voice his fear of speaking truth to power, but God provides a reassurance anyway: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (v. 8).

God’s actions in verse 9 not only provided Jeremiah with a tangible symbol of receiving God’s authority, but also served as a ritual of ordination. God touched Jeremiah’s mouth, substituting God’s words for Jeremiah’s human words. The words must be God’s alone, not quick, popular, easy words the people wished to hear. There is a giving up of one’s own will, authority, and even comfort, in accepting the call of God.

The commission that followed had a two-fold purpose: It provided a succinct statement of mission and purpose; and it foreshadowed the political and social upheaval that occurred as Jeremiah pursued his calling.

Both judgment and salvation were represented in the message. These themes characterized the long and dangerous career of the prophet. Most importantly, the commission highlighted the power of God’s words to bring about change, transformation, destruction, and renewal. The power is God’s, not Jeremiah’s. When God speaks, action follows.

This text is one of the focus readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, celebrating events at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Like Jeremiah, Jesus was not always honored and upheld in his prophetic role. Like Jeremiah, his calling (at his baptism) was an epiphany—a transforming encounter with the Divine. Also, like Jeremiah, Christ’s mission focused on tearing down the unjust systems of his day and building expectant hope and salvation under God’s reign.

Central Ideas

  1. God introduced the call to Jeremiah when he was young and inexperienced. 
  2. Jeremiah’s reluctance was proof of his openness and understanding of the challenging call he received.
  3. God promised to give Jeremiah the prophetic words to utter. God would be with him to deliver and help him.
  4. God’s action in the arena of human affairs pulls down, destroys, and overthrows, as well as plants and builds. 

Questions to Consider

  1. What experience or testimony convinced you that God knows you intimately and calls you personally?
  2. Do you believe only the person who refuses or objects to God’s call is qualified to carry it out? Why or why not?
  3. When have you felt the Spirit prompting you to undertake a specific task or mission? How did you respond?
  4. What is your congregation called to pluck up, pull down, destroy, or overthrow? What is the congregation called to plant and build?

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